Published May 04, 2009In a place where Chassidic sects with their little Payot (side locks) and stylin' rekelekh (frock-style coats) claim that homosexuals shouldn't even be buried on their sacred land for fear of contaminating it with their tarnished souls and diseased bodies, it seems strange that a gay bar called Shushan would emerge as a place of unity for Israelis and Palestinians alike. But it did and City of Borders is the documentary about its symbolism and relevance in a place where difference is not only frowned upon but violently opposed.
Struggling for dignity and tolerance, the patrons of Shushan, when interviewed, describe the sense of relief in finally being able to connect and feel at ease in a place that doesn't judge them. When juxtaposed with the constant death threats that many of them receive in the outside world, forcing some to relocate to America, it sends the obvious message of leaving people alone to live whatever life they want without taking their differences as a personal affront.
Aside from the bar owner, who is also the first openly gay member of congress in Jerusalem, the subjects are comprised of a particularly swishy single gay boy, a partnered gay man and a lesbian couple, whose distinction is that one of them is Israeli and the other Palestinian. This latter partnership represents the film's core theme most effectively, exemplifying the harmony within this subjugated community.
While certainly worthy of documentary treatment, the film struggles to connect the storylines in an entirely affecting way, feeling amateur and lacking insight. There are also far too many scenes of a particularly fey documentary subject and his friends dressing up in women's clothing and dancing around, which, contrary to popular belief, is only appealing to, and representative of, a very small portion of gay culture.
Anyone curious about the subject matter will certainly find engagement, while others less inclined to engage in gay, or religious, intolerance issues in Jerusalem will likely be unimpressed.